What began as a motor hotel in Toronto has grown into one of the most opulent hotel groups in the world. With the announcement of the 2014 Forbes Travel Guide Star Awards, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts takes things to even greater heights in hospitality, becoming the group with the most Five-Star hotels in the world. The luxury chain tacked on five Five-Star hotels to its portfolio this year, bringing its impressive total number up to 18.
Two Canadian properties (Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver and the flagship Four Seasons Hotel Toronto) achieved the prestigious Five-Star rating. On the West Coast, Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills earned the top rating this year, as well. And as a show of the company’s continued worldwide expansion, two hotels in China (the new Four Seasons Hotel Pudong, Shanghai and Four Seasons Hotel Macao, Cotai Strip) attained the Five-Star Award.
Such an achievement calls for some celebration, so our Forbes Travel Guide team chatted with Chris Hunsberger, the executive vice president of product and innovation at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, to talk stars, stellar service and separating his brand from the luxury property pack.
What does it mean for Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts to be the brand with the most new Five-Star hotels this year?
Four Seasons has always been and will continue to be the leader in luxury hospitality, delivering the highest caliber guest experience. We are focused on harnessing the company’s culture — commitment to our people, a passion for service and customer-focused evolution through innovation ensure we continue to position ourselves as industry leaders as we continue to grow. We believe that the only sustainable differentiator is one’s ability to customize the guest experience, to truly understand their needs (known and unarticulated) and to deliver against them for a memorable experience at all levels. Our prominent placement within the Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Awards results is reflective of Four Seasons’ deep commitment to service excellence and our focus on the guest experience.
What’s it like being a part of the hotel group with the most Five-Star hotels in the world?
We are fortunate to have senior leadership at all levels of Four Seasons — corporately and in each region — that shares the values and commitment to being the best, never resting on our laurels. The brand’s commitment to service and innovation is apparent throughout the organization at every level. We’re serious about innovation and know that keeping ahead of our guests is key; continuously evolving our product and services requires a company-wide focus and commitment.
Our hotels are “imaginariums” where employees are encouraged to create new ideas and services that will enhance the guest experience, and put them into place. Some of our best ideas come from those working in our properties, day after day, who witness the needs of our guests firsthand.
Every employee across the organization is empowered to think creatively and elevate the experience for each and every guest. They are encouraged to push past the fear of failure to develop a new service, a more efficient system or an original amenity tailored for a guest’s unique interests. For example, 15-minute room service: We offer a room service menu with dedicated items delivered in 15 minutes, which sprung from an idea at our Boston property to meet the needs of time-pressed travelers. This program is now being rolled out in our properties around the world and has been very well received by our guests. The usage varies depending on the style of hotel — resort versus urban — but, in general, it represents about 20 percent of our business. This level of teamwork across our portfolio of properties makes our brand’s high number of accolades possible.
What steps have been taken to achieve so many Five-Star Awards?
Four Seasons was founded on a single principle that transcends time, geography and culture: the Golden Rule — the simple idea that if you treat people well, the way you would like to be treated, they will do the same. This philosophy, and a fundamental respect for fellow individuals, provides the strong foundation for our culture of quality and service and allows us to attract and retain the type of colleagues who can deliver exceptional, highly customized guest experiences — the key to building and maintaining guest loyalty.
As a brand, we invest significantly in the recruitment process to ensure we hire the right people, those for whom hospitality is a genuine personal value and who truly care for our guests. We treat our employees like members of an elite team. And we find that living up to that image lifts their level of performance. It engenders pride, self-esteem, self-discipline and commitment. And their actions often create memories our guests don’t soon forget. The passion of our workforce is truly the power behind our business success.
We are in the business of exceeding expectations. This means regularly evaluating our programs and services to ensure that each guest interaction is living up to the experiences we’re trying to create. As our business has grown and our guests have evolved, we’ve continually pushed the bar on innovative services and products to enhance the guest experience. Our new customizable bed is the latest example of this ongoing commitment. Four Seasons will be the first hotel company to offer guests the choice of a customized bed, offering a firm, classic or plush mattress, made possible with interchangeable bed toppers. This new sleep solution will enable quick and easy customization for guests and prolong mattress life.
As technology enables consumers to increasingly research and plan travel in ways that are more in the moment, customization will continue to be a fundamental part of the travel experience. The physical attributes of our hotels are continually updated and renovated to provide an environment that fulfills the needs and comforts of our guests, deploying technology in a meaningful, guest-centric manner. We are excited about our offerings for today’s mobile and tech-savvy traveler, including new property apps, Fast Track check-in and mobile technology in all of our house cars, allowing travelers to stay connected every step of their trip with us. Our website offers best-in-class user experience, with plans to evolve our mobile platform to allow our guests to engage with us on their terms.
We strive to create experiences on property that guests can’t get anywhere else, such as the Discovery Centre at Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, which connects guests with their surroundings in an exciting and educational way. In addition, exciting designer collaborations, including cabanas designed by Missoni at Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, the Hermès limo at Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, or the multitude of world-class designers and architects we use to design our hotels — [Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Adam D.] Tihany, I.M. Pei, Pierre-Yves Rochon, [David] Rockwell — ensure that we stay relevant and continue to offer our guests a new experience each time they visit.
How do you guarantee that a guest has the best experience at a Four Seasons Hotel?
We know that luxury hotel guests today have higher expectations than ever and we are relentless in our pursuit of excellence. At Four Seasons, we have always believed that a unique understanding of our guests, one that acknowledges their personal preferences and keeps track of their changing needs through highly customized products and service, is the starting point for creating the kind of experience they want and value.
In every area, we empower our employees, giving them decision-making authority and support. And with that, they’ve proven the ability to do extraordinary things. In fact, for the type of people we hire — service oriented, dynamic, confident, fun people — job satisfaction means constantly coming up with new ways to customize the experience for our guests. Some examples: spontaneous, heartfelt, unrehearsed [actions such as] a concierge that gives his belt to a guest; the front desk manager who drives to the airport to deliver a guest’s forgotten computer; the staff member who discreetly offers to rock the baby stroller while the mother and father finish their meal.
We create properties of enduring value and support them with a deeply instilled personal service philosophy. Doing so allows Four Seasons to satisfy the needs and tastes of our guests and maintain our position as the world’s premier luxury hospitality company. Our teams around the world pride themselves on making any request happen and ensuring guests have an unforgettable stay.
What do you think makes a Five-Star hotel?
We believe that in luxury travel it is extremely important to customize the guests experiences, to truly understand their needs (known and unarticulated) and to deliver against them for a memorable experience at all levels. That’s what we are focused on at the global level, allowing for regional and local interpretation, and that — combined with our continuous push for innovation — is what keeps us on top.
Luxury means providing choice and flexibility without overwhelming guests — getting the guest right with minimal effort by the guest — understanding how to connect with the guest on an emotional level and going beyond the functional elements of the experience. Our commitment to superior and memorable design, customized amenities, and unparalleled service provides for our guests’ needs and also facilitates memorable stays for our guests around the world.
What sets Four Seasons Hotels apart from other luxury brands?
Our greatest asset, and the key to our success, is our people. We believe that each of us holds a sense of dignity, pride and satisfaction in what we do. Because satisfying our guests depends on the united efforts of many, we are most effective when we work together cooperatively, respecting each other’s contribution and importance.
Empowering our employees to “just do it” and improvise to meet the new individual needs of each guest creates a strong culture of service and innovative thinking that supports our focus on customization. Encouraging our staff’s personality and individuality to elevate the appropriate experiences allows our team the opportunity to create these memorable and unique experiences.
Four Seasons does not adopt a cookie cutter approach. We develop hotels and residences that are in harmony with each market we enter in terms of culture, style and design, focusing on creating genuine and authentic ownership experiences and achieving the highest standards of service delivery.
Local culture is integrated into each property throughout the design process, and many feature locally crafted art and decorative pieces throughout the hotel or resort, such as the art collection at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, which has been curated to showcase artisans and craftsmen from around Canada, including Attila Richard Lukacs and Sondra Meszaros.
It is important to note that while each of our hotels and resorts is different and respects the current locale and culture, there is a consistency in our service that our guests value.
Photos Courtesy of Four Seasons